Medicine and Litigation…

So I was reading the Deccan Herald Supplement today morning. There’s this column on Consumer Complaints that’s published on DH. In today’s issue, they had highlighted a couple of cases, one of which was a complaint filed against medical negligence.

A gentleman had admitted his father to Manipal Heart Centre (MHC) for a heart by-pass surgery. The surgery itself went off well, but after he had been released, he developed septicemia which had been caused by the aggravation of bed sores from his stay in the hospital. Unfortunately, the old man died due to the complications. His son filed a negligence case against MHC in the Consumer Grievances Redressal Forum. MHC was found guilty and have been asked to compensate him with an amount of Rs. 50,000 and Rs. 10,000 for the case related expenditure.

Just two days ago, Bala was telling me that Urban India was turning increasingly litigious, particularly on medical issues. He portrayed a somewhat negative picture of general practitioners, turning their backs on patients, and directing them to specialists instead. This, I believe, is what has happened in the US as well, and over a period of time, medical costs have ballooned exorbitantly. Bala indicated that the fear of litigation was beginning to creep into doctors in India too. I don’t know much about this, but Bala is generally well-informed, and I am sure there is some truth in what he says.

In the case profiled in DH, the compensation itself seems trivial. Rs. 50,000 is not an amount MHC is going to lose sleep over. But if there is an underlying trend, that is somewhat worrisome. Doctors and Hospitals are not infallible, they make mistakes, and unfortunately, sometimes their mistakes can be costly.

A few years ago, one of my cousins had been admitted to a small hospital in Bangalore for typhoid. He seemed to have recovered, and was released. But in a week or so, he developed complications, and was re-admitted. I was with him for a few days in the hospital. One thing led to another, and despite the doctor’s best efforts, he passed away. It was evident to most of us then that the doctors who were treating him had screwed up. One of them was a fairly renowned and highly respected doctor. His assistant, was a competent doctor himself, and at least to my 19 year old heart, seemed to truly care. I was sure he had been fairly disturbed at the end of whole sad thing. My cousin was the only son, and his father had passed away when he was a kid. Needless to say, his mom was heartbroken, though she took it well.

Should his mother have sued them for negligence? I frankly don’t know.

Litigation is messy business, more so, when it becomes the norm, and an integral part of the social culture, like it seems to have turned out in the US. There are of course exceptional circumstances, when it is justified, but an increasing awareness of one’s rights does not necessarily have to lead to a ethical self-righteousness. If this is indeed the beginning of a trend, this also leads to the question – Is it a consequence of increasing apathy on the part of the doctors, or is it such incidences that cause the medical profession to turn “professional” and stolid?

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Posted on August 3, 2004, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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